Spitalfields on the edge of the City of London is the place that best illustrates the capital’s capacity for opening its doors to strangers.
Protestant Huguenots fled to England in 1685 after being hounded out of France, and set up as weavers in Spitalfields. Waves of other immigrants followed.
The Irish came to escape the potato famine and the Jews of eastern Europe came to escape the pogroms. Now Spitalfields has absorbed a large Bangladeshi community, and Brick Lane has become one of the best places in London to find a cheap and tasty curry.
The Huguenots left a legacy of fine 17th-century houses, some still with their top floor weaving rooms, which are hot property today and bought by devotees who lovingly restore them. These red-brick houses are some of the finest period homes in the capital.
A walk down Fournier Street, Wilkes Street, and Princelet Street is like stepping back in time to the days following the Great Fire of London. And in nearby Folgate Street, visitors can see the house of Dennis Severs and experience his re-creation of life as it was lived by a family of weavers 300 years ago.
The neighbourhoods on the edge of the City running from Spitalfields in the south up through Shoreditch and Hoxton still have a close-grained industrial feel even though the weavers, tanners, and printers have long since departed.
This feeling of being on the edge has brought artists, designers, architects and experimental retailers to the area, and for young Londoners it is now seen at the coolest place to live in the city.
What's on offer
Properties in Shoreditch and Spitalfields: early 17th-century houses, warehouse loft-style conversions often above shops or studios, small two-bedroom cottages on the Jesus Estate near Columbia Road, and former council flats. James Walker-Osborn, from estate agency Stirling Ackroyd, says that warehouses sell for £650 to £675 per square foot, with a one-bedroom warehouse flat now starting at about £400,000.
The area attracts: Walker-Osborn describes the area as arty and bohemian. “However, we now see wealthy City buyers and young west London professionals buying here, with help from their parents, because the East End is seen as the most interesting place in London to live."
Staying power: trading up is common, but once people start thinking about having a family, the search for a decent-size garden leads them to migrate to Stoke Newington, Dalston, Hackney or Victoria Park.
Postcodes: in these City fringe areas there is a complex web of postcodes; bits of Shoreditch can be found in EC2, E1 and E2; Spitalfields falls into E1 and Hoxton into N1, which is better-known as the Islington postcode.
Best roads: Fournier Street, Wilkes Street, Princelet Street and Folgate Street are where the weavers’ houses are. For warehouses, look out for Tabernacle Street, Leonard Street and Paul Street, between Great Eastern Street and City Road, and Charlotte Road in the triangle between Curtain Road, Old Street and Great Eastern Street.
What’s new: there are a significant number of warehouse and flat developments, especially in the south of the area near Aldgate and in the north close to the Regent’s Canal. The most prestigious is the Tapestry Building in New Street, a development by Westlin of 14 flats in an old East India Company warehouse. Prices start at £1.4 million for a two-bedroom flat. Call Hurford Salvi Carr on 020 7250 1012.
Space E1 on Christian Street is a new Bellway Homes development of 214 studios, one-, two- and three-bedroom flats, including 40 affordable properties. Prices start at £199,450. Call 0845 257 6063.
Up and coming: James Walker-Osborn tips the area around Middlesex Street, better-known as Petticoat Lane. Here, prices are cheaper but the old clothing wholesalers are moving out and being replaced by independent shops, cafés and restaurants, such as the Flying Burrito, the Bell and the Fazendauk coffee shop.
Artist Tracey Emin has just moved in and the City of London’s Middlesex Street Estate is a love-it-or-loathe-it brutalist development much favoured by first-time buyers who can pick up the rarely on the market flats for between £220,000 and £300,000.
Schools: The best primary school in the area is the only one maintained by the City of London: the St John Cass’s Foundation in St James’s Passage. The Lyceum (ages three to 11) in Paul Street is a small co-educational prep school.
The Central Foundation Boys’ School (ages 11 to 18) in Cowper Street shares a sixth form with three other Islington schools, and there is a handful of girls in the sixth form. It is judged “good” by Ofsted and gets above-average results at GCSE. The local academic private schools are City of London (boys ages 10 to 18) and City of London School for Girls (ages seven to 18).
Shops and restaurants: this is one of London’s great shopping destinations, with a good mix of smart high street shops in the new Spitalfields market, quirky and unique independent shops, cafés and galleries in streets such as Redchurch Street, Calvert Avenue and Cheshire Street, and individually made items in the markets around the Truman Brewery in Brick Lane.
Watch out for cult store Labour and Wait, which specialises in utility-style interiors accessories and clothing, and Story Deli, a shabby-chic café, both on Redchurch Street; Ally Capellino’s covetable handbags on Calvert Avenue; and SCP, the long-standing modern furniture shop on Curtain Row.
The street food stalls at the back of the Sunday Up Market, part of the Truman’s brewery complex, are one of the cheapest and best places for an ethnic Sunday lunch. But there are lots of fine-dining restaurants too, notably Les Trois Garçons, Terence Conran’s Boundary, The Hawksmoor, St John Bread and Wine, Galvin la Chapelle, Hoxton Grill, Eyre Brothers and the Princess.
There is a lively night-time economy in and around Hoxton Square, although local residents recently put their foot down when top chef Mark Hix attempted to open a mega-restaurant in Rivington Street.
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Open Space: parks are not one of the area’s strong points, although Victoria Park isn’t far, and the Spitalfields City Farm in Buxton Street has farm animals including pigs and sheep.
Leisure and the arts: the Whitechapel Art Gallery and Jay Jopling’s White Cube gallery carry the torch for modern art, and there are many smaller galleries.
The nearest council-owned swimming pool is in Ironmonger Row, and there is a private pool at Market Sports in Bateman’s Row. The area likes to celebrate its rooftops with a summertime cinema on the roof of the Queen of Hoxton and a swimming pool on the roof of Soho House’s Shoreditch House.
Transport: Aldgate East is on the Hammersmith & City and the District lines; Liverpool Street is on the Metropolitan, the Hammersmith & City and Circle lines; Whitechapel, Shoreditch and Hoxton are on the newly reopened and extended East London line, with a connection at Canada Water for Canary Wharf. All these stations are in Zone 1 and an annual travel card will set you back £1,288.
Councils: the area is at a crossroads of four councils: City of London (members sit as independents), where Band D council tax for the 2011/2012 year is £939.18; Tower Hamlets (Labour-controlled) with Band D council tax of £1,195.34; Hackney (Labour-controlled), Band D council tax £1,308.27, and Islington (Labour-controlled), where Band D council tax is £1,271.69.
Buying in Shoreditch
One-bedroom flat: £238,000
Two-bedroom flat: £299,000
Two-bedroom house: £478,000
Three-bedroom house: £544,000
Four-bedroom house: £617,000
Renting in Shoreditch
One-bedroom flat: £300 to £450 a week
Two-bedroom flat: £400 to £700 a week
Two-bedroom house: £550-plus a week
Three-bedroom house: £600 to £900 a week
Four-bedroom house: £600 to £1,200 a week
Five-bedroom house: £700-plus a week
Source: Stirling Ackroyd